Major League Soccer
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Liga MX imports can provide MLS litmus test

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Let’s conduct a fun little brain exercise on a slow Premier League winter break week.

One of my favorite American soccer focuses, one that can border on obsession, is finding proper ways to measure Major League Soccer’s incredible growth while getting a bit of context.

To be clear, it’s incredibly difficult; The league’s evolution over barely more than two decades has taken place at an almost impossible pace, to my eyes a reflection of the incredible wealth in this country and the desire to matter in a sport which is generations ahead of us in a hefty percentage of nations.

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One of the biggest challenges for MLS has been that it’s not even the best league on its continent, though the metrics all say that is coming. Look no further than the Soccerex Top 100 finance report released Thursday, where MLS is second only to Premier League in terms of teams on the list, and the new CBA which will help MLS sides to compete with Liga MX for comparably-paid depth players.

Again, a huge part of that is riches and the closed system that won’t be changing any time soon now that FIFA has said its statutes apply to pretty much everyone but the U.S.A. (Yes, really).

Measuring how Liga MX’s stars and would-be European exports fare in MLS will be a far better comparison for the status of the league right now than whether imports like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney can show up and crush it. The same is true for Mexican stars like Carlos Vela and Chicharito).

So as Rodolfo Pizarro arrives in Miami, Lucas Zelarayan mixes in with Columbus, Edison Flores moves to DC, and Alan Pulido pulls on the blue of Sporting KC, watch closely: Do they slide in and dominate? That’s great for entertainment, but probably not the status of the league.

Pulido was the third-best player in the Apertura, according to Sofascore, so we can expect a lot of magic from him once he adjusts to KC. Zelarayan was 19th and Flores 28th, so close to the same idea. Pizarro was 278th, but shoulder shrug emoji.

In the other direction, and of note, Yoshimar Yotun’s production barely dipped in his first Mexican season, and Sebastian Saucedo is showing how much his MLS tenure has evolved his game from a 2016 run at Veracruz.

All should play well, but the hope in terms of league measurement is that we don’t see gaudy numbers out of any of them. No one’s rooting against them — again, we want entertainment! — but we’re hoping that days of players whose best work came in England’s League One can’t come here and set scoring records (No disrespect to BWP, but even 2014 is ages ago on the MLS scale).

I caught a Twitter thread somewhere this evening about the lack of players moving on from MLS to make big impacts in significant European leagues. There’s Tyler Adams at RB Leipzig, Alphonso Davies at Bayern, and Miguel Almiron at Newcastle (though the traditional numbers don’t show it) as quality examples.

Matt Miazga, Zack Steffen, and Jack Harrison are interesting ones to continue monitoring, and there’s a long history that includes Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Geoff Cameron, and others.

Including Rooney and Zlatan would be the stuff of trolls, given their exceptional careers before MLS and the fact that their fine form post-MLS hasn’t been met by the gaudy and dominant offensive numbers seen in their American-based years.

So Liga MX transitions either way lend us a nice litmus test. It’s not the end-all, be-all, nor do you even have to agree with the entire thesis. But as MLS continues to chase Liga MX in competitions like the CONCACAF Champions League it does sure feel like a chance to stack some surface-level impressions into something closer to fact.

Fernandes scores first goal, says Ronaldo backed Manchester United move

Bruno Fernandes Ronaldo
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It’s probably not a surprise that a young Portuguese player would fancy Manchester United given the heroics of Cristiano Ronaldo at Old Trafford early his career.

Bruno Fernandes admits that those images danced through his head well before he signed with the Red Devils in January.

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It’s also not a shock that United would turn to their former player for a take on the playmaker before buying him from Sporting Lisbon.

Fernandes says he’s grateful that CR7 endorsed BF18. From Sky Sports:

“I know some people asked Cristiano what he thought of me and what I was like as a player and a person,” Fernandes said. “I know he spoke highly of me and gave me a good reference, so I sent him a message after to thank him for his kind words.”

Fernandes has 19 caps and two goals for Portugal, while Ronaldo has a few more with 164 and 99.

He now has a goal and an assist in four appearances for United. Ronaldo finished with 118 goals and 69 assists in 292 appearances for the Red Devils.

Here’s the finish:

Eden Hazard suffers fracture ahead of Man City in UCL, El Clasico

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Eden Hazard is set to miss the Real Madrid’s UEFA Champions League first leg against Man City with a broken fibula.

Hazard had only returned to the lineup for two matches following a three-month absence with an ankle injury.

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The 29-year-old has made just 15 appearances for Real since arriving in a big-money move from Chelsea, scoring once with five assists.

He has never appeared in less than 30 league matches over the course of his career, five times missing one or zero matches.

Of course, all of his absences show that Real is very comfortable playing and winning without Hazard. Zinedine Zidane’s men lost Sunday to drop behind Barcelona in La Liga, but that was just its second loss of the league season.

Real will be taxed in depth like its rivals, with Wednesday’s visit from Man City followed by an El Clasico at the Bernabeu on March 1. Barcelona hosts Napoli on Tuesday.

Whether you like the playmaker or despise him, there must be some sense of sympathy for his latest ailments (even if Man City and Barca fans will likely offer a Jerry Seinfeld-esque, “That’s a shame”).

Watch Live: Manchester United, Wolves host bottom three battlers

Manchester United Watford live stream link
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A pair of Premier League basement dwellers face stiff tests in their bids to win another season in the top flight.

Manchester United hosts Watford on NBCSN while Wolves welcome Norwich City on CNBC as both home sides aim to improve the health of their top four hopes in 9 a.m. ET kickoffs.

[ WATCH: Man Utd-Watford | Wolves-Norwich ]

Lineups notes from both matches:

LINEUPS

Manchester United

Watford


Wolves

Norwich City

Three Serie A matches suspended due to virus deaths in Italy

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ROME (AP) Three Serie A soccer matches scheduled for Sunday in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto were suspended late Saturday after the deaths of two people infected with the virus from China.

On orders from the Italian government, the games called off were: Inter Milan vs. Sampdoria, Atalanta vs. Sassuolo and Hellas Verona vs. Cagliari.

Three other matches in Genoa, Turin and Rome on Sunday are going ahead as scheduled.

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A dozen towns in northern Italy effectively went into lockdown on Saturday after the deaths of two people infected with the coronavirus from China, and a growing cluster of cases with no direct links to the origin of the outbreak abroad.

“The government is working on urgent measures to decisively confront and contain the cases of coronavirus contagion,” read a letter from Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora to Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago shortly before midnight local time on Saturday. “Those measures also include the sports world in order to prevent risks and to better take care of the health of those involved in the events and competition.

“Following measures taken by the cabinet for protective reasons and maximum precaution, on orders of the government I’m asking you to suspend all sports events of every level and discipline planned for the Lombardy and Veneto regions on Sunday.”

The secondary contagions prompted local authorities in the Lombardy and Veneto regions to close schools, businesses and restaurants and to cancel sporting events and Masses.

The mayor of Milan, Italy’s business capital and the regional capital of Lombardy, shuttered public offices.

A 78-year-old man infected with the virus died in Veneto. A postmortem on a 77-year-old woman in Lombardy came back positive, though it wasn’t clear if illness from the virus caused her death.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf